What To Do? - thoughts evoked by the census of Moscow
by Count Lyof N. Tolstoi
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This incident led me into a fresh dilemma, to the thought of how these unfortunates also might be helped. In my self-delusion, I fancied that this would be very easy. I said to myself: "Here, we will make a note of all these women also, and later on when we [I did not specify to myself who "we" were] write every thing out, we will attend to these persons too." I imagined that we, the very ones who have brought and have been bringing these women to this condition for several generations, would take thought some fine day and reform all this. But, in the mean time, if I had only recalled my conversation with the disreputable woman who had been rocking the baby of the fever-stricken patient, I might have comprehended the full extent of the folly of such a supposition.

When we saw this woman with the baby, we thought that it was her child. To the question, "Who was she?" she had replied in a straightforward way that she was unmarried. She did not say—a prostitute. Only the master of the apartment made use of that frightful word. The supposition that she had a child suggested to me the idea of removing her from her position. I inquired:

"Is this your child?"

"No, it belongs to that woman yonder."

"Why are you taking care of it?"

"Because she asked me; she is dying."

Although my supposition proved to be erroneous, I continued my conversation with her in the same spirit. I began to question her as to who she was, and how she had come to such a state. She related her history very readily and simply. She was a Moscow myeshchanka, the daughter of a factory hand. She had been left an orphan, and had been adopted by an aunt. From her aunt's she had begun to frequent the taverns. The aunt was now dead. When I asked her whether she did not wish to alter her mode of life, my question, evidently, did not even arouse her interest. How can one take an interest in the proposition of a man, in regard to something absolutely impossible? She laughed, and said: "And who would take me in with my yellow ticket?"

"Well, but if a place could be found somewhere as cook?" said I.

This thought occurred to me because she was a stout, ruddy woman, with a kindly, round, and rather stupid face. Cooks are often like that. My words evidently did not please her. She repeated:

"A cook—but I don't know how to make bread," said she, and she laughed. She said that she did not know how; but I saw from the expression of her countenance that she did not wish to become a cook, that she regarded the position and calling of a cook as low.

This woman, who in the simplest possible manner was sacrificing every thing that she had for the sick woman, like the widow in the Gospels, at the same time, like many of her companions, regarded the position of a person who works as low and deserving of scorn. She had been brought up to live not by work, but by this life which was considered the natural one for her by those about her. In that lay her misfortune. And she fell in with this misfortune and clung to her position. This led her to frequent the taverns. Which of us—man or woman—will correct her false view of life? Where among us are the people to be found who are convinced that every laborious life is more worthy of respect than an idle life,—who are convinced of this, and who live in conformity with this belief, and who in conformity with this conviction value and respect people? If I had thought of this, I might have understood that neither I, nor any other person among my acquaintances, could heal this complaint.

I might have understood that these amazed and affected heads thrust over the partition indicated only surprise at the sympathy expressed for them, but not in the least a hope of reclamation from their dissolute life. They do not perceive the immorality of their life. They see that they are despised and cursed, but for what they are thus despised they cannot comprehend. Their life, from childhood, has been spent among just such women, who, as they very well know, always have existed, and are indispensable to society, and so indispensable that there are governmental officials to attend to their legal existence. Moreover, they know that they have power over men, and can bring them into subjection, and rule them often more than other women. They see that their position in society is recognized by women and men and the authorities, in spite of their continual curses, and therefore, they cannot understand why they should reform.

In the course of one of the tours, one of the students told me that in a certain lodging, there was a woman who was bargaining for her thirteen- year-old daughter. Being desirous of rescuing this girl, I made a trip to that lodging expressly. Mother and daughter were living in the greatest poverty. The mother, a small, dark-complexioned, dissolute woman of forty, was not only homely, but repulsively homely. The daughter was equally disagreeable. To all my pointed questions about their life, the mother responded curtly, suspiciously, and in a hostile way, evidently feeling that I was an enemy, with evil intentions; the daughter made no reply, did not look at her mother, and evidently trusted the latter fully. They inspired me with no sincere pity, but rather with disgust. But I made up my mind that the daughter must be rescued, and that I would interest ladies who pitied the sad condition of these women, and send them hither. But if I had reflected on the mother's long life in the past, of how she had given birth to, nursed and reared this daughter in her situation, assuredly without the slightest assistance from outsiders, and with heavy sacrifices—if I had reflected on the view of life which this woman had formed, I should have understood that there was, decidedly, nothing bad or immoral in the mother's act: she had done and was doing for her daughter all that she could, that is to say, what she considered the best for herself. This daughter could be forcibly removed from her mother; but it would be impossible to convince the mother that she was doing wrong, in selling her daughter. If any one was to be saved, then it must be this woman—the mother ought to have been saved; [and that long before, from that view of life which is approved by every one, according to which a woman may live unmarried, that is, without bearing children and without work, and simply for the satisfaction of the passions. If I had thought of this, I should have understood that the majority of the ladies whom I intended to send thither for the salvation of that little girl, not only live without bearing children and without working, and serving only passion, but that they deliberately rear their daughters for the same life; one mother takes her daughter to the taverns, another takes hers to balls. But both mothers hold the same view of the world, namely, that a woman must satisfy man's passions, and that for this she must be fed, dressed, and cared for. Then how are our ladies to reform this woman and her daughter? {66} ]


Still more remarkable were my relations to the children. In my role of benefactor, I turned my attention to the children also, being desirous to save these innocent beings from perishing in that lair of vice, and noting them down in order to attend to them afterwards.

Among the children, I was especially struck with a twelve-year-old lad named Serozha. I was heartily sorry for this bold, intelligent lad, who had lived with a cobbler, and who had been left without a shelter because his master had been put in jail, and I wanted to do good to him.

I will here relate the upshot of my benevolence in his case, because my experience with this child is best adapted to show my false position in the role of benefactor. I took the boy home with me and put him in the kitchen. It was impossible, was it not, to take a child who had lived in a den of iniquity in among my own children? And I considered myself very kind and good, because he was a care, not to me, but to the servants in the kitchen, and because not I but the cook fed him, and because I gave him some cast-off clothing to wear. The boy staid a week. During that week I said a few words to him as I passed on two occasions and in the course of my strolls, I went to a shoemaker of my acquaintance, and proposed that he should take the lad as an apprentice. A peasant who was visiting me, invited him to go to the country, into his family, as a laborer; the boy refused, and at the end of the week he disappeared. I went to the Rzhanoff house to inquire after him. He had returned there, but was not at home when I went thither. For two days already, he had been going to the Pryesnensky ponds, where he had hired himself out at thirty kopeks a day in some procession of savages in costume, who led about elephants. Something was being presented to the public there. I went a second time, but he was so ungrateful that he evidently avoided me. Had I then reflected on the life of that boy and on my own, I should have understood that this boy was spoiled because he had discovered the possibility of a merry life without labor, and that he had grown unused to work. And I, with the object of benefiting and reclaiming him, had taken him to my house, where he saw—what? My children,—both older and younger than himself, and of the same age,—who not only never did any work for themselves, but who made work for others by every means in their power, who soiled and spoiled every thing about them, who ate rich, dainty, and sweet viands, broke china, and flung to the dogs food which would have been a tidbit to this lad. If I had rescued him from the abyss, and had taken him to that nice place, then he must acquire those views which prevailed in the life of that nice place; but by these views, he understood that in that fine place he must so live that he should not toil, but eat and drink luxuriously, and lead a joyous life. It is true that he did not know that my children bore heavy burdens in the acquisition of the declensions of Latin and Greek grammar, and that he could not have understood the object of these labors. But it is impossible not to see that if he had understood this, the influence of my children's example on him would have been even stronger. He would then have comprehended that my children were being educated in this manner, so that, while doing no work now, they might be in a position hereafter, also profiting by their diplomas, to work as little as possible, and to enjoy the pleasures of life to as great an extent as possible. He did understand this, and he would not go with the peasant to tend cattle, and to eat potatoes and kvas with him, but he went to the zoological garden in the costume of a savage, to lead the elephant at thirty kopeks a day.

I might have understood how clumsy I was, when I was rearing my children in the most utter idleness and luxury, to reform other people and their children, who were perishing from idleness in what I called the den of the Rzhanoff house, where, nevertheless, three-fourths of the people toil for themselves and for others. But I understood nothing of this.

There were a great many children in the Rzhanoff house, who were in the same pitiable plight; there were the children of dissolute women, there were orphans, there were children who had been picked up in the streets by beggars. They were all very wretched. But my experience with Serozha showed me that I, living the life I did, was not in a position to help them.

While Serozha was living with us, I noticed in myself an effort to hide our life from him, in particular the life of our children. I felt that all my efforts to direct him towards a good, industrious life, were counteracted by the examples of our lives and by that of our children. It is very easy to take a child away from a disreputable woman, or from a beggar. It is very easy, when one has the money, to wash, clean and dress him in neat clothing, to support him, and even to teach him various sciences; but it is not only difficult for us, who do not earn our own bread, but quite the reverse, to teach him to work for his bread, but it is impossible, because we, by our example, and even by those material and valueless improvements of his life, inculcate the contrary. A puppy can be taken, tended, fed, and taught to fetch and carry, and one may take pleasure in him: but it is not enough to tend a man, to feed and teach him Greek; we must teach the man how to live,—that is, to take as little as possible from others, and to give as much as possible; and we cannot help teaching him to do the contrary, if we take him into our houses, or into an institution founded for this purpose.


This feeling of compassion for people, and of disgust with myself, which I had experienced in the Lyapinsky house, I experienced no longer. I was completely absorbed in the desire to carry out the scheme which I had concocted,—to do good to those people whom I should meet here. And, strange to say, it would appear, that, to do good—to give money to the needy—is a very good deed, and one that should dispose me to love for the people, but it turned out the reverse: this act produced in me ill- will and an inclination to condemn people. But during our first evening tour, a scene occurred exactly like that in the Lyapinsky house, and it called forth a wholly different sentiment.

It began by my finding in one set of apartments an unfortunate individual, of precisely the sort who require immediate aid. I found a hungry woman who had had nothing to eat for two days.

It came about thus: in one very large and almost empty night-lodging, I asked an old woman whether there were many poor people who had nothing to eat? The old woman reflected, and then told me of two; and then, as though she had just recollected, "Why, here is one of them," said she, glancing at one of the occupied bunks. "I think that woman has had no food."

"Really? Who is she?"

"She was a dissolute woman: no one wants any thing to do with her now, so she has no way of getting any thing. The landlady has had compassion on her, but now she means to turn her out . . . Agafya, hey there, Agafya!" cried the woman.

We approached, and something rose up in the bunk. It was a woman haggard and dishevelled, whose hair was half gray, and who was as thin as a skeleton, dressed in a ragged and dirty chemise, and with particularly brilliant and staring eyes. She looked past us with her staring eyes, clutched at her jacket with one thin hand, in order to cover her bony breast which was disclosed by her tattered chemise, and oppressed, she cried, "What is it? what is it?" I asked her about her means of livelihood. For a long time she did not understand, and said, "I don't know myself; they persecute me." I asked her,—it puts me to shame, my hand refuses to write it,—I asked her whether it was true that she had nothing to eat? She answered in the same hurried, feverish tone, staring at me the while,—"No, I had nothing yesterday, and I have had nothing to- day."

The sight of this woman touched me, but not at all as had been the case in the Lyapinsky house; there, my pity for these people made me instantly feel ashamed of myself: but here, I rejoiced because I had at last found what I had been seeking,—a hungry person.

I gave her a ruble, and I recollect being very glad that others saw it. The old woman, on seeing this, immediately begged money of me also. It afforded me such pleasure to give, that, without finding out whether it was necessary to give or not, I gave something to the old woman too. The old woman accompanied me to the door, and the people standing in the corridor heard her blessing me. Probably the questions which I had put with regard to poverty, had aroused expectation, and several persons followed us. In the corridor also, they began to ask me for money. Among those who begged were some drunken men, who aroused an unpleasant feeling in me; but, having once given to the old woman, I had no might to refuse these people, and I began to give. As long as I continued to give, people kept coming up; and excitement ran through all the lodgings. People made them appearance on the stairs and galleries, and followed me. As I emerged into the court-yard, a little boy ran swiftly down one of the staircases thrusting the people aside. He did not see me, and exclaimed hastily: "He gave Agashka a ruble!" When he reached the ground, the boy joined the crowd which was following me. I went out into the street: various descriptions of people followed me, and asked for money. I distributed all my small change, and entered an open shop with the request that the shopkeeper would change a ten-ruble bill for me. And then the same thing happened as at the Lyapinsky house. A terrible confusion ensued. Old women, noblemen, peasants, and children crowded into the shop with outstretched hands; I gave, and interrogated some of them as to their lives, and took notes. The shopkeeper, turning up the furred points of the collar of his coat, sat like a stuffed creature, glancing at the crowd occasionally, and then fixing his eyes beyond them again. He evidently, like every one else, felt that this was foolish, but he could not say so.

The poverty and beggary in the Lyapinsky house had horrified me, and I felt myself guilty of it; I felt the desire and the possibility of improvement. But now, precisely the same scene produced on me an entirely different effect; I experienced, in the first place, a malevolent feeling towards many of those who were besieging me; and in the second place, uneasiness as to what the shopkeepers and porters would think of me.

On my return home that day, I was troubled in my soul. I felt that what I had done was foolish and immoral. But, as is always the result of inward confusion, I talked a great deal about the plan which I had undertaken, as though I entertained not the slightest doubt of my success.

On the following day, I went to such of the people whom I had inscribed on my list, as seemed to me the most wretched of all, and those who, as it seemed to me, would be the easiest to help. As I have already said, I did not help any of these people. It proved to be more difficult to help them than I had thought. And either because I did not know how, or because it was impossible, I merely imitated these people, and did not help any one. I visited the Rzhanoff house several times before the final tour, and on every occasion the very same thing occurred: I was beset by a throng of beggars in whose mass I was completely lost. I felt the impossibility of doing any thing, because there were too many of them, and because I felt ill-disposed towards them because there were so many of them; and in addition to this, each one separately did not incline me in his favor. I was conscious that every one of them was telling me an untruth, or less than the whole truth, and that he saw in me merely a purse from which money might be drawn. And it very frequently seemed to me, that the very money which they squeezed out of me, rendered their condition worse instead of improving it. The oftener I went to that house, the more I entered into intercourse with the people there, the more apparent became to me the impossibility of doing any thing; but still I did not give up any scheme until the last night tour.

The remembrance of that last tour is particularly mortifying to me. On other occasions I had gone thither alone, but twenty of us went there on this occasion. At seven o'clock, all who wished to take part in this final night round, began to assemble at my house. Nearly all of them were strangers to me,—students, one officer, and two of my society acquaintances, who, uttering the usual, "C'est tres interessant!" had asked me to include them in the number of the census-takers.

My worldly acquaintances had dressed up especially for this, in some sort of hunting-jacket, and tall, travelling boots, in a costume in which they rode and went hunting, and which, in their opinion, was appropriate for an excursion to a night-lodging-house. They took with them special note- books and remarkable pencils. They were in that peculiarly excited state of mind in which men set off on a hunt, to a duel, or to the wars. The most apparent thing about them was their folly and the falseness of our position, but all the rest of us were in the same false position. Before we set out, we held a consultation, after the fashion of a council of war, as to how we should begin, how divide our party, and so on.

This consultation was exactly such as takes place in councils, assemblages, committees; that is to say, each person spoke, not because he had any thing to say or to ask, but because each one cudgelled his brain for something that he could say, so that he might not fall short of the rest. But, among all these discussions, no one alluded to that beneficence of which I had so often spoken to them all. Mortifying as this was to me, I felt that it was indispensable that I should once more remind them of benevolence, that is, of the point, that we were to observe and take notes of all those in destitute circumstances whom we should encounter in the course of our rounds. I had always felt ashamed to speak of this; but now, in the midst of all our excited preparations for our expedition, I could hardly utter the words. All listened to me, as it seemed to me, with sorrow, and, at the same time, all agreed in words; but it was evident that they all knew that it was folly, and that nothing would come of it, and all immediately began again to talk about something else. This went on until the time arrived for us to set out, and we started.

We reached the tavern, roused the waiters, and began to sort our papers. When we were informed that the people had heard about this round, and were leaving their quarters, we asked the landlord to lock the gates; and we went ourselves into the yard to reason with the fleeing people, assuring them that no one would demand their tickets. I remember the strange and painful impression produced on me by these alarmed night-lodgers: ragged, half-dressed, they all seemed tall to me by the light of the lantern and the gloom of the court-yard. Frightened and terrifying in their alarm, they stood in a group around the foul-smelling out-house, and listened to our assurances, but they did not believe us, and were evidently prepared for any thing, like hunted wild beasts, provided only that they could escape from us. Gentlemen in divers shapes—as policemen, both city and rural, and as examining judges, and judges—hunt them all their lives, in town and country, on the highway and in the streets, and in the taverns, and in night-lodging houses; and now, all of a sudden, these gentlemen had come and locked the gates, merely in order to count them: it was as difficult for them to believe this, as for hares to believe that dogs have come, not to chase but to count them. But the gates were locked, and the startled lodgers returned: and we, breaking up into groups, entered also. With me were the two society men and two students. In front of us, in the dark, went Vanya, in his coat and white trousers, with a lantern, and we followed. We went to quarters with which I was familiar. I knew all the establishments, and some of the people; but the majority of the people were new, and the spectacle was new, and more dreadful than the one which I had witnessed in the Lyapinsky house. All the lodgings were full, all the bunks were occupied, not by one person only, but often by two. The sight was terrible in that narrow space into which the people were huddled, and men and women were mixed together. All the women who were not dead drunk slept with men; and women with two children did the same. The sight was terrible, on account of the poverty, dirt, rags, and terror of the people. And it was chiefly dreadful on account of the vast numbers of people who were in this situation. One lodging, and then a second like it, and a third, and a tenth, and a twentieth, and still there was no end to them. And everywhere there was the same foul odor, the same close atmosphere, the same crowding, the same mingling of the sexes, the same men and women intoxicated to stupidity, and the same terror, submission and guilt on all faces; and again I was overwhelmed with shame and pain, as in the Lyapinsky house, and I understood that what I had undertaken was abominable and foolish and therefore impracticable. And I no longer took notes of anybody, and I asked no questions, knowing that nothing would come of this.

I was deeply pained. In the Lyapinsky house I had been like a man who has seen a fearful wound, by chance, on the body of another man. He is sorry for the other man, he is ashamed that he has not pitied the man before, and he can still rise to the succor of the sufferer. But now I was like a physician, who has come with his medicine to the sick man, has uncovered his sore, and examined it, and who must confess to himself that every thing that he has done has been in vain, and that his remedy is good for nothing.


This visit dealt the final blow to my self-delusion. It now appeared indisputable to me, that what I had undertaken was not only foolish but loathsome.

But, in spite of the fact that I was aware of this, it seemed to me that I could not abandon the whole thing on the spot. It seemed to me that I was bound to carry out this enterprise, in the first place, because by my article, by my visits and promises, I had aroused the expectations of the poor; in the second, because by my article also, and by my talk, I had aroused the sympathies of benevolent persons, many of whom had promised me their co-operation both in personal labor and in money. And I expected that both sets of people would turn to me for an answer to this.

What happened to me, so far as the appeal of the needy to me is concerned, was as follows: By letter and personal application I received more than a hundred; these applications were all from the wealthy-poor, if I may so express myself. I went to see some of them, and some of them received no answer. Nowhere did I succeed in doing any thing. All applications to me were from persons who had once occupied privileged positions (I thus designate those in which people receive more from others than they give), who had lost them, and who wished to occupy them again. To one, two hundred rubles were indispensable, in order that he might prop up a failing business, and complete the education of his children which had been begun; another wanted a photographic outfit; a third wanted his debts paid, and respectable clothing purchased for him; a fourth needed a piano, in order to perfect himself and support his family by giving lessons. But the majority did not stipulate for any given sum of money, and simply asked for assistance; and when I came to examine into what was required, it turned out that their demands grew in proportion to the aid, and that there was not and could not be any way of satisfying them. I repeat, that it is very possible that this arose from the fact that I did not understand how; but I did not help any one, although I sometimes endeavored to do so.

A very strange and unexpected thing happened to me as regards the co-operation of the benevolently disposed. Out of all the persons who had promised me financial aid, and who had even stated the number of rubles, not a single one handed to me for distribution among the poor one solitary ruble. But according to the pledges which had been given me, I could reckon on about three thousand rubles; and out of all these people, not one remembered our former discussions, or gave me a single kopek. Only the students gave the money which had been assigned to them for their work on the census, twelve rubles, I think. So my whole scheme, which was to have been expressed by tens of thousands of rubles contributed by the wealthy, for hundreds and thousands of poor people who were to be rescued from poverty and vice, dwindled down to this, that I gave away, haphazard, a few scores of rubles to those people who asked me for them, and that there remained in my hands twelve rubies contributed by the students, and twenty-five sent to me by the City Council for my labor as a superintendent, and I absolutely did not know to whom to give them.

The whole matter came to an end. And then, before my departure for the country, on the Sunday before carnival, I went to the Rzhanoff house in the morning, in order to get rid of those thirty-seven rubles before I should leave Moscow, and to distribute them to the poor. I made the round of the quarters with which I was familiar, and in them found only one sick man, to whom I gave five rubles. There was no one else there to give any to. Of course many began to beg of me. But as I had not known them at first, so I did not know them now, and I made up my mind to take counsel with Ivan Fedotitch, the landlord of the tavern, as to the persons upon whom it would be proper to bestow the remaining thirty-two rubies.

It was the first day of the carnival. Everybody was dressed up, and everybody was full-fed, and many were already intoxicated. In the court- yard, close to the house, stood an old man, a rag-picker, in a tattered smock and bast shoes, sorting over the booty in his basket, tossing out leather, iron, and other stuff in piles, and breaking into a merry song, with a fine, powerful voice. I entered into conversation with him. He was seventy years old, he was alone in the world, and supported himself by his calling of a rag-picker; and not only did he utter no complaints, but he said that he had plenty to eat and drink. I inquired of him as to especially needy persons. He flew into a rage, and said plainly that there were no needy people, except drunkards and lazy men; but, on learning my object, he asked me for a five-kopek piece to buy a drink, and ran off to the tavern. I too entered the tavern to see Ivan Fedotitch, and commission him to distribute the money which I had left. The tavern was full; gayly-dressed, intoxicated girls were flitting in and out; all the tables were occupied; there were already a great many drunken people, and in the small room the harmonium was being played, and two persons were dancing. Out of respect to me, Ivan Fedotitch ordered that the dance should be stopped, and seated himself with me at a vacant table. I said to him, that, as he knew his tenants, would not he point out to me the most needy among them; that I had been entrusted with the distribution of a little money, and, therefore, would he indicate the proper persons? Good-natured Ivan Fedotitch (he died a year later), although he was pressed with business, broke away from it for a time, in order to serve me. He meditated, and was evidently undecided. An elderly waiter heard us, and joined the conference.

They began to discuss the claims of persons, some of whom I knew, but still they could not come to any agreement. "The Paramonovna," suggested the waiter. "Yes, that would do. Sometimes she has nothing to eat. Yes, but then she tipples."—"Well, what of that? That makes no difference."—"Well, Sidoron Ivanovitch has children. He would do." But Ivan Fedotitch had his doubts about Sidoron Ivanovitch also. "Akulina shall have some. There, now, give something to the blind." To this I responded. I saw him at once. He was a blind old man of eighty years, without kith or kin. It seemed as though no condition could be more painful, and I went immediately to see him. He was lying on a feather- bed, on a high bedstead, drunk; and, as he did not see me, he was scolding his comparatively youthful female companion in a frightful bass voice, and in the very worst kind of language. They also summoned an armless boy and his mother. I saw that Ivan Fedotitch was in great straits, on account of his conscientiousness, for me knew that whatever was given would immediately pass to his tavern. But I had to get rid of my thirty-two rubles, so I insisted; and in one way and another, and half wrongfully to boot, we assigned and distributed them. Those who received them were mostly well dressed, and we had not far to go to find them, as they were there in the tavern. The armless boy appeared in wrinkled boots, and a red shirt and vest. With this my charitable career came to an end, and I went off to the country; irritated at others, as is always the case, because I myself had done a stupid and a bad thing. My benevolence had ended in nothing, and it ceased altogether, but the current of thoughts and feelings which it had called up with me not only did not come to an end, but the inward work went on with redoubled force.


What was its nature?

I had lived in the country, and there I was connected with the rustic poor. Not out of humility, which is worse than pride, but for the sake of telling the truth, which is indispensable for the understanding of the whole course of my thoughts and sentiments, I will say that in the country I did very little for the poor, but the demands which were made upon me were so modest that even this little was of use to the people, and formed around me an atmosphere of affection and union with the people, in which it was possible to soothe the gnawing sensation of remorse at the independence of my life. On going to the city, I had hoped to be able to live in the same manner. But here I encountered want of an entirely different sort. City want was both less real, and more exacting and cruel, than country poverty. But the principal point was, that there was so much of it in one spot, that it produced on me a frightful impression. The impression which I experienced in the Lyapinsky house had, at the very first, made me conscious of the deformity of my own life. This feeling was genuine and very powerful. But, notwithstanding its genuineness and power, I was, at that time, so weak that I feared the alteration in my life to which this feeling commended me, and I resorted to a compromise. I believed what everybody told me, and everybody has said, ever since the world was made,—that there is nothing evil in wealth and luxury, that they are given by God, that one may continue to live as a rich man, and yet help the needy. I believed this, and I tried to do it. I wrote an essay, in which I summoned all rich people to my assistance. The rich people all acknowledged themselves morally bound to agree with me, but evidently they either did not wish to do any thing, or they could not do any thing or give any thing to the poor. I began to visit the poor, and I beheld what I had not in the least expected. On the one hand, I beheld in those dens, as I called them, people whom it was not conceivable that I should help, because they were working people, accustomed to labor and privation, and therefore standing much higher and having a much firmer foothold in life than myself; on the other hand, I saw unfortunate people whom I could not aid because they were exactly like myself. The majority of the unfortunates whom I saw were unhappy only because they had lost the capacity, desire, and habit of earning their own bread; that is to say, their unhappiness consisted in the fact that they were precisely such persons as myself.

I found no unfortunates who were sick, hungry, or cold, to whom I could render immediate assistance, with the solitary exception of hungry Agafya. And I became convinced, that, on account of my remoteness from the lives of those people whom I desired to help, it would be almost impossible to find any such unfortunates, because all actual wants had already been supplied by the very people among whom these unfortunates live; and, most of all, I was convinced that money cannot effect any change in the life led by these unhappy people.

I was convinced of all this, but out of false shame at abandoning what I had once undertaken, because of my self-delusion as a benefactor, I went on with this matter for a tolerably long time,—and would have gone on with it until it came to nothing of itself,—so that it was with the greatest difficulty that, with the help of Ivan Fedotitch, I got rid, after a fashion, as well as I could, in the tavern of the Rzhanoff house, of the thirty-seven rubles which I did not regard as belonging to me.

Of course I might have gone on with this business, and have made out of it a semblance of benevolence; by urging the people who had promised me money, I might have collected more, I might have distributed this money, and consoled myself with my charity; but I perceived, on the one hand, that we rich people neither wish nor are able to share a portion of our a superfluity with the poor (we have so many wants of our own), and that money should not be given to any one, if the object really be to do good and not to give money itself at haphazard, as I had done in the Rzhanoff tavern. And I gave up the whole thing, and went off to the country with despair in my heart.

In the country I tried to write an essay about all this that I had experienced, and to tell why my undertaking had not succeeded. I wanted to justify myself against the reproaches which had been made to me on the score of my article on the census; I wanted to convict society of its in difference, and to state the causes in which this city poverty has its birth, and the necessity of combating it, and the means of doing so which I saw.

I began this essay at once, and it seemed to me that in it I was saying a very great deal that was important. But toil as I would over it, and in spite of the abundance of materials, in spite of the superfluity of them even, I could not get though that essay; and so I did not finish it until the present year, because of the irritation under the influence of which I wrote, because I had not gone through all that was requisite in order to bear myself properly in relation to this essay, because I did not simply and clearly acknowledge the cause of all this,—a very simple cause, which had its root in myself.

In the domain of morals, one very remarkable and too little noted phenomenon presents itself.

If I tell a man who knows nothing about it, what I know about geology, astronomy, history, physics, and mathematics, that man receives entirely new information, and he never says to me: "Well, what is there new in that? Everybody knows that, and I have known it this long while." But tell that same man the most lofty truth, expressed in the clearest, most concise manner, as it has never before been expressed, and every ordinary individual, especially one who takes no particular interest in moral questions, or, even more, one to whom the moral truth stated by you is displeasing, will infallibly say to you: "Well, who does not know that? That was known and said long ago." It really seems to him that this has been said long ago and in just this way. Only those to whom moral truths are dear and important know how important and precious they are, and with what prolonged labor the elucidation, the simplification, of moral truths, their transit from the state of a misty, indefinitely recognized supposition, and desire, from indistinct, incoherent expressions, to a firm and definite expression, unavoidably demanding corresponding concessions, are attained.

We have all become accustomed to think that moral instruction is a most absurd and tiresome thing, in which there can be nothing new or interesting; and yet all human life, together with all the varied and complicated activities, apparently independent, of morality, both governmental and scientific, and artistic and commercial, has no other aim than the greater and greater elucidation, confirmation, simplification, and accessibility of moral truth.

I remember that I was once walking along the street in Moscow, and in front of me I saw a man come out and gaze attentively at the stones of the sidewalk, after which he selected one stone, seated himself on it, and began to plane (as it seemed to me) or to rub it with the greatest diligence and force. "What is he doing to the sidewalk?" I said to myself. On going close to him, I saw what the man was doing. He was a young fellow from a meat-shop; he was whetting his knife on the stone of the pavement. He was not thinking at all of the stones when he scrutinized them, still less was he thinking of them when he was accomplishing his task: he was whetting his knife. He was obliged to whet his knife so that he could cut the meat; but to me it seemed as though he were doing something to the stones of the sidewalk. Just so it appears as though humanity were occupied with commerce, conventions, wars, sciences, arts; but only one business is of importance to it, and with only one business is it occupied: it is elucidating to itself those moral laws by which it lives. The moral laws are already in existence; humanity is only elucidating them, and this elucidation seems unimportant and imperceptible for any one who has no need of moral laws, who does not wish to live by them. But this elucidation of the moral law is not only weighty, but the only real business of all humanity. This elucidation is imperceptible just as the difference between the dull and the sharp knife is imperceptible. The knife is a knife all the same, and for a person who is not obliged to cut any thing with this knife, the difference between the dull and the sharp one is imperceptible. For the man who has come to an understanding that his whole life depends on the greater or less degree of sharpness in the knife,—for such a man, every whetting of it is weighty, and that man knows that the knife is a knife only when it is sharp, when it cuts that which needs cutting.

This is what happened to me, when I began to write my essay. It seemed to me that I knew all about it, that I understood every thing connected with those questions which had produced on me the impressions of the Lyapinsky house, and the census; but when I attempted to take account of them and to demonstrate them, it turned out that the knife would not cut, and that it must be whetted. And it is only now, after the lapse of three years, that I have felt that my knife is sufficiently sharp, so that I can cut what I choose. I have learned very little that is new. My thoughts are all exactly the same, but they were duller then, and they all scattered and would not unite on any thing; there was no edge to them; they would not concentrate on one point, on the simplest and clearest decision, as they have now concentrated themselves.


I remember that during the entire period of my unsuccessful efforts at helping the inhabitants of the city, I presented to myself the aspect of a man who should attempt to drag another man out of a swamp while he himself was standing on the same unstable ground. Every attempt of mine had made me conscious of the untrustworthy character of the soil on which I stood. I felt that I was in the swamp myself, but this consciousness did not cause me to look more narrowly at my own feet, in order to learn upon what I was standing; I kept on seeking some external means, outside myself, of helping the existing evil.

I then felt that my life was bad, and that it was impossible to live in that manner. But from the fact that my life was bad, and that it was impossible to live in that manner, I did not draw the very simple and clear deduction that it was necessary to amend my life and to live better, but I knew the terrible deduction that in order to live well myself, I must needs reform the lives of others; and so I began to reform the lives of others. I lived in the city, and I wished to reform the lives of those who lived in the city; but I soon became convinced that this I could not by any possibility accomplish, and I began to meditate on the inherent characteristics of city life and city poverty.

"What are city life and city poverty? Why, when I am living in the city, cannot I help the city poor?"

I asked myself. I answered myself that I could not do any thing for them, in the first place, because there were too many of them here in one spot; in the second place, because all the poor people here were entirely different from the country poor. Why were there so many of them here? and in what did their peculiarity, as opposed to the country poor, consist? There was one and the same answer to both questions. There were a great many of them here, because here all those people who have no means of subsistence in the country collect around the rich; and their peculiarity lies in this, that they are not people who have come from the country to support themselves in the city (if there are any city paupers, those who have been born here, and whose fathers and grandfathers were born here, then those fathers and grandfathers came hither for the purpose of earning their livelihood). What is the meaning of this: to earn one's livelihood in the city? In the words "to earn one's livelihood in the city," there is something strange, resembling a jest, when you reflect on their significance. How is it that people go from the country,—that is to say, from the places where there are forests, meadows, grain, and cattle, where all the wealth of the earth lies,—to earn their livelihood in a place where there are neither trees, nor grass, nor even land, and only stones and dust? What is the significance of the words "to earn a livelihood in the city," which are in such constant use, both by those who earn the livelihood, and by those who furnish it, as though it were something perfectly clear and comprehensible?

I recall the hundreds and thousands of city people, both those who live well and the needy, with whom I have conversed on the reason why they came hither: and all without exception said, that they had come from the country to earn their living; that in Moscow, where people neither sow nor reap,—that in Moscow there is plenty of every thing, and that, therefore, it is only in Moscow that they can earn the money which they require in the country for bread and a cottage and a horse, and articles of prime necessity. But assuredly, in the country lies the source of all riches; there only is real wealth,—bread, and forests, and horses, and every thing. And why, above all, take away from the country that which dwellers in the country need,—flour, oats, horses, and cattle?

Hundreds of times did I discuss this matter with peasants living in town; and from my discussions with them, and from my observations, it has been made apparent to me, that the congregation of country people in the city is partly indispensable because they cannot otherwise support themselves, partly voluntary, and that they are attracted to the city by the temptations of the city.

It is true, that the position of the peasant is such that, for the satisfaction of his demands made on him in the country, he cannot extricate himself otherwise than by selling the grain and the cattle which he knows will be indispensable to him; and he is forced, whether he will or no, to go to the city in order there to win back his bread. But it is also true, that the luxury of city life, and the comparative ease with which money is there to be earned, attract him thither; and under the pretext of gaining his living in the town, he betakes himself thither in order that he may have lighter work, better food, and drink tea three times a day, and dress well, and even lead a drunken and dissolute life. The cause of both is identical,—the transfer of the riches of the producers into the hands of non-producers, and the accumulation of wealth in the cities. And, in point of fact, when autumn has come, all wealth is collected in the country. And instantly there arise demands for taxes, recruits, the temptations of vodka, weddings, festivals; petty pedlers make their rounds through the villages, and all sorts of other temptations crop up; and by this road, or, if not, by some other, wealth of the most varied description—vegetables, calves, cows, horses, pigs, chickens, eggs, butter, hemp, flax, rye, oats, buckwheat, pease, hempseed, and flaxseed—all passes into the hands of strangers, is carried off to the towns, and thence to the capitals. The countryman is obliged to surrender all this to satisfy the demands that are made upon him, and temptations; and, having parted with his wealth, he is left with an insufficiency, and he is forced to go whither his wealth has been carried and there he tries, in part, to obtain the money which he requires for his first needs in the country, and in part, being himself led away by the blandishments of the city, he enjoys, in company with others, the wealth that has there accumulated. Everywhere, throughout the whole of Russia,—yes, and not in Russia alone, I think, but throughout the whole world,—the same thing goes on. The wealth of the rustic producers passes into the hands of traders, landed proprietors, officials, and factory-owners; and the people who receive this wealth wish to enjoy it. But it is only in the city that they can derive full enjoyment from this wealth. In the country, in the first place, it is difficult to satisfy all the requirements of rich people, on account of the sparseness of the population; banks, shops, hotels, every sort of artisan, and all sorts of social diversions, do not exist there. In the second place, one of the chief pleasures procured by wealth—vanity, the desire to astonish and outshine other people—is difficult to satisfy in the country; and this, again, on account of the lack of inhabitants. In the country, there is no one to appreciate elegance, no one to be astonished. Whatever adornments in the way of pictures and bronzes the dweller in the country may procure for his house, whatever equipages and toilets he may provide, there is no one to see them and envy them, and the peasants cannot judge of them. [And, in the third place, luxury is even disagreeable and dangerous in the country for the man possessed of a conscience and fear. It is an awkward and delicate matter, in the country, to have baths of milk, or to feed your puppies on it, when directly beside you there are children who have no milk; it is an awkward and delicate matter to build pavilions and gardens in the midst of people who live in cots banked up with dung, which they have no means of warming. In the country there is no one to keep the stupid peasants in order, and in their lack of cultivation they might disarrange all this.] {94}

And accordingly rich people congregate, and join themselves to other rich people with similar requirements, in the city, where the gratification of every luxurious taste is carefully protected by a numerous police force. Well-rooted inhabitants of the city of this sort, are the governmental officials; every description of artisan and professional man has sprung up around them, and with them the wealthy join their forces. All that a rich man has to do there is to take a fancy to a thing, and he can get it. It is also more agreeable for a rich man to live there, because there he can gratify his vanity; there is some one with whom he can vie in luxury; there is some one to astonish, and there is some one to outshine. But the principal reason why it is more comfortable in the city for a rich man is that formerly, in the country, his luxury made him awkward and uneasy; while now, on the contrary, it would be awkward for him not to live luxuriously, not to live like all his peers around him. That which seemed dreadful and awkward in the country, here appears to be just as it should be. [Rich people congregate in the city; and there, under the protection of the authorities, they calmly demand every thing that is brought thither from the country. And the countryman is, in some measure, compelled to go thither, where this uninterrupted festival of the wealthy which demands all that is taken from him is in progress, in order to feed upon the crumbs which fall from the tables of the rich; and partly, also, because, when he beholds the care-free, luxurious life, approved and protected by everybody, he himself becomes desirous of regulating his life in such a way as to work as little as possible, and to make as much use as possible of the labors of others.

And so he betakes himself to the city, and finds employment about the wealthy, endeavoring, by every means in his power, to entice from them that which he is in need of, and conforming to all those conditions which the wealthy impose upon him, he assists in the gratification of all their whims; he serves the rich man in the bath and in the inn, and as cab-driver and prostitute, and he makes for him equipages, toys, and fashions; and he gradually learns from the rich man to live in the same manner as the latter, not by labor, but by divers tricks, getting away from others the wealth which they have heaped together; and he becomes corrupt, and goes to destruction. And this colony, demoralized by city wealth, constitutes that city pauperism which I desired to aid and could not.

All that is necessary, in fact, is for us to reflect on the condition of these inhabitants of the country, who have removed to the city in order to earn their bread or their taxes,—when they behold, everywhere around them, thousands squandered madly, and hundreds won by the easiest possible means; when they themselves are forced by heavy toil to earn kopeks,—and we shall be amazed that all these people should remain working people, and that they do not all of them take to an easier method of getting gain,—by trading, peddling, acting as middlemen, begging, vice, rascality, and even robbery. Why, we, the participants in that never-ceasing orgy which goes on in town, can become so accustomed to our life, that it seems to us perfectly natural to dwell alone in five huge apartments, heated by a quantity of beech logs sufficient to cook the food for and to warm twenty families; to drive half a verst with two trotters and two men-servants; to cover the polished wood floor with rugs; and to spend, I will not say, on a ball, five or ten thousand rubles, and twenty-five thousand on a Christmas-tree. But a man who is in need of ten rubles to buy bread for his family, or whose last sheep has been seized for a tax-debt of seven rubles, and who cannot raise those rubles by hard labor, cannot grow accustomed to this. We think that all this appears natural to poor people there are even some ingenuous persons who say in all seriousness, that the poor are very grateful to us for supporting them by this luxury.] {96}

But poor people are not devoid of human understanding simply because they are poor, and they judge precisely as we do. As the first thought that occurs to us on hearing that such and such a man has gambled away or squandered ten or twenty thousand rubles, is: "What a foolish and worthless fellow he is to uselessly squander so much money! and what a good use I could have made of that money in a building which I have long been in need of, for the improvement of my estate, and so forth!"—just so do the poor judge when they behold the wealth which they need, not for caprices, but for the satisfaction of their actual necessities, of which they are frequently deprived, flung madly away before their eyes. We make a very great mistake when we think that the poor can judge thus, reason thus, and look on indifferently at the luxury which surrounds them.

They never have acknowledged, and they never will acknowledge, that it can be just for some people to live always in idleness, and for other people to fast and toil incessantly; but at first they are amazed and insulted by this; then they scrutinize it more attentively, and, seeing that these arrangements are recognized as legitimate, they endeavor to free themselves from toil, and to take part in the idleness. Some succeed in this, and they become just such carousers themselves; others gradually prepare themselves for this state; others still fail, and do not attain their goal, and, having lost the habit of work, they fill up the disorderly houses and the night-lodging houses.

Two years ago, we took from the country a peasant boy to wait on table. For some reason, he did not get on well with the footman, and he was sent away: he entered the service of a merchant, won the favor of his master, and now he goes about with a vest and a watch-chain, and dandified boots. In his place, we took another peasant, a married man: he became a drunkard, and lost money. We took a third: he took to drunk, and, having drank up every thing he had, he suffered for a long while from poverty in the night-lodging house. An old man, the cook, took to drink and fell sick. Last year a footman who had formerly been a hard drinker, but who had refrained from liquor for five years in the country, while living in Moscow without his wife who encouraged him, took to drink again, and ruined his whole life. A young lad from our village lives with my brother as a table-servant. His grandfather, a blind old man, came to me during my sojourn in the country, and asked me to remind this grandson that he was to send ten rubies for the taxes, otherwise it would be necessary for him to sell his cow. "He keeps saying, I must dress decently," said the old man: "well, he has had some shoes made, and that's all right; but what does he want to set up a watch for?" said the grandfather, expressing in these words the most senseless supposition that it was possible to originate. The supposition really was senseless, if we take into consideration that the old man throughout Lent had eaten no butter, and that he had no split wood because he could not possibly pay one ruble and twenty kopeks for it; but it turned out that the old man's senseless jest was an actual fact. The young fellow came to see me in a fine black coat, and shoes for which he had paid eight rubles. He had recently borrowed ten rubles from my brother, and had spent them on these shoes. And my children, who have known the lad from childhood, told me that he really considers it indispensable to fit himself out with a watch. He is a very good boy, but he thinks that people will laugh at him so long as he has no watch; and a watch is necessary. During the present year, a chambermaid, a girl of eighteen, entered into a connection with the coachman in our house. She was discharged. An old woman, the nurse, with whom I spoke in regard to the unfortunate girl, reminded me of a girl whom I had forgotten. She too, ten yeans ago, during a brief stay of ours in Moscow, had become connected with a footman. She too had been discharged, and she had ended in a disorderly house, and had died in the hospital before reaching the age of twenty. It is only necessary to glance about one, to be struck with terror at the pest which we disseminate directly by our luxurious life among the people whom we afterwards wish to help, not to mention the factories and establishments which serve our luxurious tastes.

[And thus, having penetrated into the peculiar character of city poverty, which I was unable to remedy, I perceived that its prime cause is this, that I take absolute necessaries from the dwellers in the country, and carry them all to the city. The second cause is this, that by making use here, in the city, of what I have collected in the country, I tempt and lead astray, by my senseless luxury, those country people who come hither because of me, in order in some way to get back what they have been deprived of in the country.] {99}


I reached the same conclusion from a totally different point. On recalling all my relations with the city poor during that time, I saw that one of the reasons why I could not help the city poor was, that the poor were disingenuous and untruthful with me. They all looked upon me, not as a man, but as means. I could not get near them, and I thought that perhaps I did not understand how to do it; but without uprightness, no help was possible. How can one help a man who does not disclose his whole condition? At first I blamed them for this (it is so natural to blame some one else); but a remark from an observing man named Siutaeff, who was visiting me at the time, explained this matter to me, and showed me where the cause of my want of success lay. I remember that Siutaeff's remark struck me very forcibly at the time; but I only understood its full significance later on. It was at the height of my self-delusion. I was sitting with my sister, and Siutaeff was there also at her house; and my sister was questioning me about my undertaking. I told her about it, and, as always happens when you have no faith in your course, I talked to her with great enthusiasm and warmth, and at great length, of what I had done, and of what might possibly come of it. I told her every thing,—how we were going to keep track of pauperism in Moscow, how we were going to keep an eye on the orphans and old people, how we were going to send away all country people who had grown poor here, how we were going to smooth the pathway to reform for the depraved; how, if only the matter could be managed, there would not be a man left in Moscow, who could not obtain assistance. My sister sympathized with me, and we discussed it. In the middle of our conversation, I glanced at Siutaeff. As I was acquainted with his Christian life, and with the significance which he attached to charity, I expected his sympathy, and spoke so that he understood this; I talked to my sister, but directed my remarks more at him. He sat immovable in his dark tanned sheepskin jacket,—which he wore, like all peasants, both out of doors and in the house,—and as though he did not hear us, but were thinking of his own affairs. His small eyes did not twinkle, and seemed to be turned inwards. Having finished what I had to say, I turned to him with a query as to what he thought of it.

"It's all a foolish business," said he.


"Your whole society is foolish, and nothing good can come out of it," he repeated with conviction.

"Why not? Why is it a stupid business to help thousands, at any rate hundreds, of unfortunate beings? Is it a bad thing, according to the Gospel, to clothe the naked, and feed the hungry?"

"I know, I know, but that is not what you are doing. Is it necessary to render assistance in that way? You are walking along, and a man asks you for twenty kopeks. You give them to him. Is that alms? Do you give spiritual alms,—teach him. But what is it that you have given? It was only for the sake of getting rid of him."

"No; and, besides, that is not what we are talking about. We want to know about this need, and then to help by both money and deeds; and to find work."

"You can do nothing with those people in that way."

"So they are to be allowed to die of hunger and cold?"

"Why should they die? Are there many of them there?"

"What, many of them?" said I, thinking that he looked at the matter so lightly because he was not aware how vast was the number of these people.

"Why, do you know," said I, "I believe that there are twenty thousand of these cold and hungry people in Moscow. And how about Petersburg and the other cities?"

He smiled.

"Twenty thousand! And how many households are there in Russia alone, do you think? Are there a million?"

"Well, what then?"

"What then?" and his eyes flashed, and he grew animated. "Come, let us divide them among ourselves. I am not rich, I will take two persons on the spot. There is the lad whom you took into your kitchen; I invited him to come to my house, and he did not come. Were there ten times as many, let us divide them among us. Do you take some, and I will take some. We will work together. He will see how I work, and he will learn. He will see how I live, and we will sit down at the same table together, and he will hear my words and yours. This charity society of yours is nonsense."

These simple words impressed me. I could not but admit their justice; but it seemed to me at that time, that, in spite of their truth, still that which I had planned might possibly prove of service. But the further I carried this business, the more I associated with the poor, the more frequently did this remark recur to my mind, and the greater was the significance which it acquired for me.

I arrive in a costly fur coat, or with my horses; or the man who lacks shoes sees my two-thousand-ruble apartments. He sees how, a little while ago, I gave five rubles without begrudging them, merely because I took a whim to do so. He surely knows that if I give away rubles in that manner, it is only because I have hoarded up so many of them, that I have a great many superfluous ones, which I not only have not given away, but which I have easily taken from other people. [What else could he see in me but one of those persons who have got possession of what belongs to him? And what other feeling can he cherish towards me, than a desire to obtain from me as many of those rubles, which have been stolen from him and from others, as possible? I wish to get close to him, and I complain that he is not frank; and here I am, afraid to sit down on his bed for fear of getting lice, or catching something infectious; and I am afraid to admit him to my room, and he, coming to me naked, waits, generally in the vestibule, or, if very fortunate, in the ante-chamber. And yet I declare that he is to blame because I cannot enter into intimate relations with him, and because me is not frank.

Let the sternest man try the experiment of eating a dinner of five courses in the midst of people who have had very little or nothing but black bread to eat. Not a man will have the spirit to eat, and to watch how the hungry lick their chops around him. Hence, then, in order to eat daintily amid the famishing, the first indispensable requisite is to hide from them, in order that they may not see it. This is the very thing, and the first thing, that we do.

And I took a simpler view of our life, and perceived that an approach to the poor is not difficult to us through accidental causes, but that we deliberately arrange our lives in such a fashion so that this approach may be rendered difficult.

Not only this; but, on taking a survey of our life, of the life of the wealthy, I saw that every thing which is considered desirable in that life consists in, or is inseparably bound up with, the idea of getting as far away from the poor as possible. In fact, all the efforts of our well- endowed life, beginning with our food, dress, houses, our cleanliness, and even down to our education,—every thing has for its chief object, the separation of ourselves from the poor. In procuring this seclusion of ourselves by impassable barriers, we spend, to put it mildly, nine- tenths of our wealth. The first thing that a man who was grown wealthy does is to stop eating out of one bowl, and he sets up crockery, and fits himself out with a kitchen and servants. And he feeds his servants high, too, so that their mouths may not water over his dainty viands; and he eats alone; and as eating in solitude is wearisome, he plans how he may improve his food and deck his table; and the very manner of taking his food (dinner) becomes a matter for pride and vain glory with him, and his manner of taking his food becomes for him a means of sequestering himself from other men. A rich man cannot think of such a thing as inviting a poor man to his table. A man must know how to conduct ladies to table, how to bow, to sit down, to eat, to rinse out the mouth; and only rich people know all these things. The same thing occurs in the matter of clothing. If a rich man were to wear ordinary clothing, simply for the purpose of protecting his body from the cold,—a short jacket, a coat, felt and leather boots, an under-jacket, trousers, shirt,—he would require but very little, and he would not be unable, when he had two coats, to give one of them to a man who had none. But the rich man begins by procuring for himself clothing which consists entirely of separate pieces, and which is fit only for separate occasions, and which is, therefore, unsuited to the poor man. He has frock-coats, vests, pea- jackets, lacquered boots, cloaks, shoes with French heels, garments that are chopped up into bits to conform with the fashion, hunting-coats, travelling-coats, and so on, which can only be used under conditions of existence far removed from poverty. And his clothing also furnishes him with a means of keeping at a distance from the poor. The same is the case, and even more clearly, with his dwelling. In order that one may live alone in ten rooms, it is indispensable that those who live ten in one room should not see it. The richer a man is, the more difficult is he of access; the more porters there are between him and people who are not rich, the more impossible is it to conduct a poor man over rugs, and seat him in a satin chair.

The case is the same with the means of locomotion. The peasant driving in a cart, or a sledge, must be a very ill-tempered man when he will not give a pedestrian a lift; and there is both room for this and a possibility of doing it. But the richer the equipage, the farther is a man from all possibility of giving a seat to any person whatsoever. It is even said plainly, that the most stylish equipages are those meant to hold only one person.

It is precisely the same thing with the manner of life which is expressed by the word cleanliness.

Cleanliness! Who is there that does not know people, especially women, who reckon this cleanliness in themselves as a great virtue? and who is not acquainted with the devices of this cleanliness, which know no bounds, when it can command the labor of others? Which of the people who have become rich has not experienced in his own case, with what difficulty he carefully trained himself to this cleanliness, which only confirms the proverb, "Little white hands love other people's work"?

To-day cleanliness consists in changing your shirt once a day; to-morrow, in changing it twice a day. To-day it means washing the face, and neck, and hands daily; to-morrow, the feet; and day after to-morrow, washing the whole body every day, and, in addition and in particular, a rubbing- down. To-day the table-cloth is to serve for two days, to-morrow there must be one each day, then two a day. To-day the footman's hands must be clean; to-morrow he must wear gloves, and in his clean gloves he must present a letter on a clean salver. And there are no limits to this cleanliness, which is useless to everybody, and objectless, except for the purpose of separating oneself from others, and of rendering impossible all intercourse with them, when this cleanliness is attained by the labors of others.

Moreover, when I studied the subject, I because convinced that even that which is commonly called education is the very same thing.

The tongue does not deceive; it calls by its real name that which men understand under this name. What the people call culture is fashionable clothing, political conversation, clean hands,—a certain sort of cleanliness. Of such a man, it is said, in contradistinction to others, that he is an educated man. In a little higher circle, what they call education means the same thing as with the people; only to the conditions of education are added playing on the pianoforte, a knowledge of French, the writing of Russian without orthographical errors, and a still greater degree of external cleanliness. In a still more elevated sphere, education means all this with the addition of the English language, and a diploma from the highest educational institution. But education is precisely the same thing in the first, the second, and the third case. Education consists of those forms and acquirements which are calculated to separate a man from his fellows. And its object is identical with that of cleanliness,—to seclude us from the herd of poor, in order that they, the poor, may not see how we feast. But it is impossible to hide ourselves, and they do see us.

And accordingly I have become convinced that the cause of the inability of us rich people to help the poor of the city lies in the impossibility of our establishing intercourse with them; and that this impossibility of intercourse is caused by ourselves, by the whole course of our lives, by all the uses which we make of our wealth. I have become convinced that between us, the rich and the poor, there rises a wall, reared by ourselves out of that very cleanliness and education, and constructed of our wealth; and that in order to be in a condition to help the poor, we must needs, first of all, destroy this wall; and that in order to do this, confrontation after Siutaeff's method should be rendered possible, and the poor distributed among us. And from another starting-point also I came to the same conclusion to which the current of my discussions as to the causes of the poverty in towns had led me: the cause was our wealth.] {108}


I began to examine the matter from a third and wholly personal point of view. Among the phenomena which particularly impressed me, during the period of my charitable activity, there was yet another, and a very strange one, for which I could for a long time find no explanation. It was this: every time that I chanced, either on the street on in the house, to give some small coin to a poor man, without saying any thing to him, I saw, or thought that I saw, contentment and gratitude on the countenance of the poor man, and I myself experienced in this form of benevolence an agreeable sensation. I saw that I had done what the man wished and expected from me. But if I stopped the poor man, and sympathetically questioned him about his former and his present life, I felt that it was no longer possible to give three or twenty kopeks, and I began to fumble in my purse for money, in doubt as to how much I ought to give, and I always gave more; and I always noticed that the poor man left me dissatisfied. But if I entered into still closer intercourse with the poor man, then my doubts as to how much to give increased also; and, no matter how much I gave, the poor man grew ever more sullen and discontented. As a general rule, it always turned out thus, that if I gave, after conversation with a poor man, three rubles or even more, I almost always beheld gloom, displeasure, and even ill-will, on the countenance of the poor man; and I have even known it to happen, that, having received ten rubles, he went off without so much as saying "Thank you," exactly as though I had insulted him.

And thereupon I felt awkward and ashamed, and almost guilty. But if I followed up a poor man for weeks and months and years, and assisted him, and explained my views to him, and associated with him, our relations became a torment, and I perceived that the man despised me. And I felt that he was in the right.

If I go out into the street, and he, standing in that street, begs of me among the number of the other passers-by, people who walk and ride past him, and I give him money, I then am to him a passer-by, and a good, kind passer-by, who bestows on him that thread from which a shirt is made for the naked man; he expects nothing more than the thread, and if I give it he thanks me sincerely. But if I stop him, and talk with him as man with man, I thereby show him that I desire to be something more than a mere passer-by. If, as often happens, he weeps while relating to me his woes, then he sees in me no longer a passer-by, but that which I desire that he should see: a good man. But if I am a good man, my goodness cannot pause at a twenty-kopek piece, nor at ten rubles, nor at ten thousand; it is impossible to be a little bit of a good man. Let us suppose that I have given him a great deal, that I have fitted him out, dressed him, set him on his feet so that the can live without outside assistance; but for some reason or other, though misfortune or his own weakness or vices, he is again without that coat, that linen, and that money which I have given him; he is again cold and hungry, and he has come again to me,—how can I refuse him? [For if the cause of my action consisted in the attainment of a definite, material end, on giving him so many rubles or such and such a coat I might be at ease after having bestowed them. But the cause of my action is not this: the cause is, that I want to be a good man, that is to say, I want to see myself in every other man. Every man understands goodness thus, and in no other manner.] {111} And therefore, if he should drink away every thing that you had given him twenty times, and if he should again be cold and hungry, you cannot do otherwise than give him more, if you are a good man; you can never cease giving to him, if you have more than he has. And if you draw back, you will thereby show that every thing that you have done, you have done not because you are a good man, but because you wished to appear a good man in his sight, and in the sight of men.

And thus in the case with the men from whom I chanced to recede, to whom I ceased to give, and, by this action, denied good, I experienced a torturing sense of shame.

What sort of shame was this? This shame I had experienced in the Lyapinsky house, and both before and after that in the country, when I happened to give money or any thing else to the poor, and in my expeditions among the city poor.

A mortifying incident that occurred to me not long ago vividly reminded me of that shame, and led me to an explanation of that shame which I had felt when bestowing money on the poor.

[This happened in the country. I wanted twenty kopeks to give to a poor pilgrim; I sent my son to borrow them from some one; he brought the pilgrim a twenty-kopek piece, and told me that he had borrowed it from the cook. A few days afterwards some more pilgrims arrived, and again I was in want of a twenty-kopek piece. I had a ruble; I recollected that I was in debt to the cook, and I went to the kitchen, hoping to get some more small change from the cook. I said: "I borrowed a twenty-kopek piece from you, so here is a ruble." I had not finished speaking, when the cook called in his wife from another room: "Take it, Parasha," said he. I, supposing that she understood what I wanted, handed her the ruble. I must state that the cook had only lived with me a week, and, though I had seen his wife, I had never spoken to her. I was just on the point of saying to her that she was to give me some small coins, when she bent swiftly down to my hand, and tried to kiss it, evidently imaging that I had given her the ruble. I muttered something, and quitted the kitchen. I was ashamed, ashamed to the verge of torture, as I had not been for a long time. I shrank together; I was conscious that I was making grimaces, and I groaned with shame as I fled from the kitchen. This utterly unexpected, and, as it seemed to me, utterly undeserved shame, made a special impression on me, because it was a long time since I had been mortified, and because I, as an old man, had so lived, it seemed to me, that I had not merited this shame. I was forcibly struck by this. I told the members of my household about it, I told my acquaintances, and they all agreed that they should have felt the same. And I began to reflect: why had this caused me such shame? To this, something which had happened to me in Moscow furnished me with an answer.

I meditated on that incident, and the shame which I had experienced in the presence of the cook's wife was explained to me, and all those sensations of mortification which I had undergone during the course of my Moscow benevolence, and which I now feel incessantly when I have occasion to give any one any thing except that petty alms to the poor and to pilgrims, which I have become accustomed to bestow, and which I consider a deed not of charity but of courtesy. If a man asks you for a light, you must strike a match for him, if you have one. If a man asks for three or for twenty kopeks, or even for several rubles, you must give them if you have them. This is an act of courtesy and not of charity.] {113}

This was the case in question: I have already mentioned the two peasants with whom I was in the habit of sawing wood three yeans ago. One Saturday evening at dusk, I was returning to the city in their company. They were going to their employer to receive their wages. As we were crossing the Dragomilovsky bridge, we met an old man. He asked alms, and I gave him twenty kopeks. I gave, and reflected on the good effect which my charity would have on Semyon, with whom I had been conversing on religious topics. Semyon, the Vladimir peasant, who had a wife and two children in Moscow, halted also, pulled round the skirt of his kaftan, and got out his purse, and from this slender purse he extracted, after some fumbling, three kopeks, handed it to the old man, and asked for two kopeks in change. The old man exhibited in his hand two three-kopek pieces and one kopek. Semyon looked at them, was about to take the kopek, but thought better of it, pulled off his hat, crossed himself, and walked on, leaving the old man the three-kopek piece.

I was fully acquainted with Semyon's financial condition. He had no property at home at all. The money which he had laid by on the day when he gave three kopeks amounted to six rubles and fifty kopeks. Accordingly, six rubles and twenty kopeks was the sum of his savings. My reserve fund was in the neighborhood of six hundred thousand. I had a wife and children, Semyon had a wife and children. He was younger than I, and his children were fewer in number than mine; but his children were small, and two of mine were of an age to work, so that our position, with the exception of the savings, was on an equality; mine was somewhat the more favorable, if any thing. He gave three kopeks, I gave twenty. What did he really give, and what did I really give? What ought I to have given, in order to do what Semyon had done? he had six hundred kopeks; out of this he gave one, and afterwards two. I had six hundred thousand rubles. In order to give what Semyon had given, I should have been obliged to give three thousand rubles, and ask for two thousand in change, and then leave the two thousand with the old man, cross myself, and go my way, calmly conversing about life in the factories, and the cost of liver in the Smolensk market.

I thought of this at the time; but it was only long afterwards that I was in a condition to draw from this incident that deduction which inevitably results from it. This deduction is so uncommon and so singular, apparently, that, in spite of its mathematical infallibility, one requires time to grow used to it. It does seem as though there must be some mistake, but mistake there is none. There is merely the fearful mist of error in which we live.

[This deduction, when I arrived at it, and when I recognized its undoubted truth, furnished me with an explanation of my shame in the presence of the cook's wife, and of all the poor people to whom I had given and to whom I still give money.

What, in point of fact, is that money which I give to the poor, and which the cook's wife thought I was giving to her? In the majority of cases, it is that portion of my substance which it is impossible even to express in figures to Semyon and the cook's wife,—it is generally one millionth part or about that. I give so little that the bestowal of any money is not and cannot be a deprivation to me; it is only a pleasure in which I amuse myself when the whim seizes me. And it was thus that the cook's wife understood it. If I give to a man who steps in from the street one ruble or twenty kopeks, why should not I give her a ruble also? In the opinion of the cook's wife, such a bestowal of money is precisely the same as the flinging of honey-cakes to the people by gentlemen; it furnishes the people who have a great deal of superfluous cash with amusement. I was mortified because the mistake made by the cook's wife demonstrated to me distinctly the view which she, and all people who are not rich, must take of me: "He is flinging away his folly, i.e., his unearned money."

As a matter of fact, what is my money, and whence did it come into my possession? A portion of it I accumulated from the land which I received from my father. A peasant sold his last sheep or cow in order to give the money to me. Another portion of my money is the money which I have received for my writings, for my books. If my books are hurtful, I only lead astray those who purchase them, and the money which I receive for them is ill-earned money; but if my books are useful to people, then the issue is still more disastrous. I do not give them to people: I say, "Give me seventeen rubles, and I will give them to you." And as the peasant sells his last sheep, in this case the poor student or teacher, or any other poor man, deprives himself of necessaries in order to give me this money. And so I have accumulated a great deal of money in that way, and what do I do with it? I take that money to the city, and bestow it on the poor, only when they fulfil my caprices, and come hither to the city to clean my sidewalk, lamps, and shoes; to work for me in factories. And in return for this money, I force from them every thing that I can; that is to say, I try to give them as little as possible, and to receive as much as possible from them. And all at once I begin, quite unexpectedly, to bestow this money as a simple gift, on these same poor persons, not on all, but on those to whom I take a fancy. Why should not every poor person expect that it is quite possible that the luck may fall to him of being one of those with whom I shall amuse myself by distributing my superfluous money? And so all look upon me as the cook's wife did.

And I had gone so far astray that this taking of thousands from the poor with one hand, and this flinging of kopeks with the other, to those to whom the whim moved me to give, I called good. No wonder that I felt ashamed.] {116}

Yes, before doing good it was needful for me to stand outside of evil, in such conditions that I might cease to do evil. But my whole life is evil. I may give away a hundred thousand rubles, and still I shall not be in a position to do good because I shall still have five hundred thousand left. Only when I have nothing shall I be in a position to do the least particle of good, even as much as the prostitute did which she nursed the sick women and her child for three days. And that seemed so little to me! And I dared to think of good myself! That which, on the first occasion, told me, at the sight of the cold and hungry in the Lyapinsky house, that I was to blame for this, and that to live as I live is impossible, and impossible, and impossible,—that alone was true.

What, then, was I to do?


It was hard for me to come to this confession, but when I had come to it I was shocked at the error in which I had been living. I stood up to my ears in the mud, and yet I wanted to drag others out of this mud.

What is it that I wish in reality? I wish to do good to others. I wish to do it so that other people may not be cold and hungry, so that others may live as it is natural for people to live.

[I wish this, and I see that in consequence of the violence, extortions, and various tricks in which I take part, people who toil are deprived of necessaries, and people who do not toil, in whose ranks I also belong, enjoy in superabundance the toil of other people.

I see that this enjoyment of the labors of others is so arranged, that the more rascally and complicated the trickery which is employed by the man himself, or which has been employed by the person from whom he obtained his inheritance, the more does he enjoy of the labors of others, and the less does he contribute of his own labor.

First come the Shtiglitzy, Dervizy, Morozovy, the Demidoffs, the Yusapoffs; then great bankers, merchants, officials, landed proprietors, among whom I also belong; then the poor—very small traders, dramshop- keepers, usurers, district judges, overseers, teachers, sacristans, clerks; then house-porters, lackeys, coachmen, watch-carriers, cab-drivers, peddlers; and last of all, the laboring classes—factory-hands and peasants, whose numbers bear the relation to the first named of ten to one. I see that the life of nine-tenths of the working classes demands, by reason of its nature, application and toil, as does every natural life; but that, in consequence of the sharp practices which take from these people what is indispensable, and place them in such oppressive conditions, this life becomes more difficult every year, and more filled with deprivations; but our life, the life of the non-laboring classes, thanks to the co-operation of the arts and sciences which are directed to this object, becomes more filled with superfluities, more attractive and careful, with every year. I see, that, in our day, the life of the workingman, and, in particular, the life of old men, of women, and of children of the working population, is perishing directly from their food, which is utterly inadequate to their fatiguing labor; and that this life of theirs is not free from care as to its very first requirements; and that, alongside of this, the life of the non-laboring classes, to which I belong, is filled more and more, every year, with superfluities and luxury, and becomes more and more free from anxiety, and has finally reached such a point of freedom from care, in the case of its fortunate members, of whom I am one, as was only dreamed of in olden times in fairy-tales,—the state of the owner of the purse with the inexhaustible ruble, that is, a condition in which a man is not only utterly released from the law of labor, but in which he possesses the possibility of enjoying, without toil, all the blessings of life, and of transferring to his children, or to any one whom he may see fit, this purse with the inexhaustible ruble.

I see that the products of the people's toil are more and more transformed from the mass of the working classes to those who do not work; that the pyramid of the social edifice seems to be reconstructed in such fashion that the foundation stones are carried to the apex, and the swiftness of this transfer is increasing in a sort of geometrical ratio. I see that the result of this is something like that which would take place in an ant-heap if the community of ants were to lose their sense of the common law, if some ants were to begin to draw the products of labor from the bottom to the top of the heap, and should constantly contract the foundations and broaden the apex, and should thereby also force the remaining ants to betake themselves from the bottom to the summit.

I see that the ideal of the Fortunatus' purse has made its way among the people, in the place of the ideal of a toilsome life. Rich people, myself among the number, get possession of the inexhaustible ruble by various devices, and for the purpose of enjoying it we go to the city, to the place where nothing is produced and where every thing is swallowed up.

The industrious poor man, who is robbed in order that the rich may possess this inexhaustible ruble, yearns for the city in his train; and there he also takes to sharp practices, and either acquires for himself a position in which he can work little and receive much, thereby rendering still more oppressive the situation of the laboring classes, or, not having attained to such a position, he goes to ruin, and falls into the ranks of those cold and hungry inhabitants of the night-lodging houses, which are being swelled with such remarkable rapidity.

I belong to the class of those people, who, by divers tricks, take from the toiling masses the necessaries of life, and who have acquired for themselves these inexhaustible rubles, and who lead these unfortunates astray. I desire to aid people, and therefore it is clear that, first of all, I must cease to rob them as I am doing. But I, by the most complicated, and cunning, and evil practices, which have been heaped up for centuries, have acquired for myself the position of an owner of the inexhaustible ruble, that is to say, one in which, never working myself, I can make hundreds and thousands of people toil for me—which also I do; and I imagine that I pity people, and I wish to assist them. I sit on a man's neck, I weigh him down, and I demand that he shall carry me; and without descending from his shoulders I assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him, and that I desire to ameliorate his condition by all possible means, only not by getting off of him.

Surely this is simple enough. If I want to help the poor, that is, to make the poor no longer poor, I must not produce poor people. And I give, at my own selection, to poor men who have gone astray from the path of life, a ruble, or ten rubles, or a hundred; and I grasp hundreds from people who have not yet left the path, and thereby I render them poor also, and demoralize them to boot.

This is very simple; but it was horribly hard for me to understand this fully without compromises and reservations, which might serve to justify my position; but it sufficed for me to confess my guilt, and every thing which had before seemed to me strange and complicated, and lacking in cleanness, became perfectly comprehensible and simple. But the chief point was, that my way of life, arising from this interpretation, became simple, clear and pleasant, instead of perplexed, inexplicable and full of torture as before.] {122a}

Who am I, that I should desire to help others? I desire to help people; and I, rising at twelve o'clock after a game of vint {122b} with four candles, weak, exhausted, demanding the aid of hundreds of people,—I go to the aid of whom? Of people who rise at five o'clock, who sleep on planks, who nourish themselves on bread and cabbage, who know how to plough, to reap, to wield the axe, to chop, to harness, to sew,—of people who in strength and endurance, and skill and abstemiousness, are a hundred times superior to me,—and I go to their succor! What except shame could I feel, when I entered into communion with these people? The very weakest of them, a drunkard, an inhabitant of the Rzhanoff house, the one whom they call "the idler," is a hundred-fold more industrious than I; [his balance, so to speak, that is to say, the relation of what he takes from people and that which they give him, stands on a thousand times better footing than my balance, if I take into consideration what I take from people and what I give to them.] {122a}

And these are the people to whose assistance I go. I go to help the poor. But who is the poor man? There is no one poorer than myself. I am a thoroughly enervated, good-for-nothing parasite, who can only exist under the most special conditions, who can only exist when thousands of people toil at the preservation of this life which is utterly useless to every one. And I, that plant-louse, which devours the foliage of trees, wish to help the tree in its growth and health, and I wish to heal it.

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